Roy DeBoer — File Photo — Rider University
As we’ve discussed on this very website, one of the great things about wrestling is that it is settled on the mat. It doesn’t matter what other people think or where you’re ranked. If you take care of your business, you can achieve your goals. That is good news for these five wrestlers who have all achieved All-American status but are often overlooked by fans.
#5 -Dean Heil, Oklahoma State, 141 – Junior
The defending national champion at 141 pounds, Heil won 32 of 33 matches a year after finishing fourth in the country as a freshman. He beat the number two, Joey McKenna (Stanford), twice during the year on his way to six wins over top-five opponents. He avenged his only loss, to Joey Ward (North Carolina), at the NCAA tournament in the quarter-finals. Yet, he is consistently picked against as wrestling fans make their predictions for this year and he is consistently near the top of the list when discussing who the first #1 to fall will be. The field of #1s is stacked, with Olympic medalists, multiple-time national champions, and bonus point machines, so that makes some sense, but to expect anyone at 141 to beat him? That just doesn’t add up.
#4 – Brandon Sorensen, Iowa, 149 – Junior
Sorensen is 69-8 through two years and has been fourth and second at NCAAs. Unfortunately for him, he toils in the rather large shadow cast by Zain Retherford (Penn State) over all other D1 149s. Brandon is one of the top wrestlers in the NCAA right now but gets little credit for beating everyone in the weight whose first names start with A through Y. He has a real chance to be one the best wrestlers ever not to win a national title. It is a distinction no wrestler wants, sure, but every one of the guys on that list was outstanding in their own right.
#3 – Eric Montoya, Nebraska, 133 – Senior
Some friends and I were discussing 133 pounds the other day. After we had a good, long conversation about the contenders and all the young guys coming into the weight we moved on to other topics. Only later did we realize we hadn’t even mentioned Montoya. That is quite an oversight as the Nebraska senior is coming off an NCAA tournament where his only losses were to Cory Clark (Iowa) and Cody Brewer (Oklahoma) on his way to a fifth-place finish. This came on the heels of a round of 12 run in 2015 during which he majored Zane Richards (Illinois), knocked off Johnny DiJulius (Ohio State) and then fell just short of All-American status, losing to second-seeded Bradley Taylor (Wisconsin) in sudden victory. Montoya may not be likely to beat Clark or Tomasello, but he’ll be a major factor in who places behind them. There are many young talents gunning for Montoya’s spot in the pecking order, but he won’t just step aside. He’ll be tough for any of them to beat.
#2 – Zane Richards, Illinois, 133 – Senior
Ever since the news that Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State) was moving to 133 became public, the discussion of whether or not he can beat Cory Clark (Iowa) has raged. Seemingly lost in that discussion is that Zane Richards was dramatically improved in 2015-16, beat Clark once, and then went out and won University Nationals at 61 kg, signaling his intent to finish his senior season on the Saturday night stage. Yes, Richards did drop his last two matches to Clark, but both were close and given how far Zane came from his sophomore to his junior year, anyone counting him out of the 133-pound title chase isn’t paying attention.
#1 – Chad Walsh, Rider, 165 – Junior
After watching his brother, Taylor, at Indiana, perhaps we should have seen Chad’s run at the 2016 NCAA tournament coming. However, there was even more evidence that it could happen than his last name. Walsh had already beaten two-time All-American Mitch Minotti (Lehigh) and pushed Tommy Gantt (NC State) into overtime when they met at the Midlands. Sophomores, especially sophomores from the smaller wrestling conferences, that have shown that type of ability have a tendency to make big leaps every now and then. That is what happened to Walsh as he finished fifth in the nation, losing only to Jason Nolf (Penn State) and Nick Brascetta (Virginia Tech). Along the way, he finally beat Gantt and knocked off Cody Pack (South Dakota State). Walsh may go under the radar again this year as Rider doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but expect him to surface at the Midlands, then the NCAAs, up a weight from 2015-16, and be a terror at both.